nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

harvesting colour … lily of the valley

with 4 comments


Now that green is the dominant colour outside my door, I am anxious to try dyeing with every plant I see.   I was particularly anxious to see if I could coax colour from the Lily of the Valley crowding around my walkway.

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leaves of Lily of the Valley and Wild Lily of the Valley

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The green leaves in the photo above are from two different plants, the smaller single leaves of Wild Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum canadense) and the larger furled Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis).  The larger Lily of the Valley produces a dye with seasonal qualities – dark green in spring and yellow in fall.

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'pips' of Lily of the Valley

‘pips’ of Lily of the Valley

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The rolled emerging leaves of the Lily of the Valley are called ‘pips’.  The pips squeak as they are collected.  I think they want to be left alone!

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Lily of the Valley, ready to be cut up and set to boil

Lily of the Valley leaves in water

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I cut the leaves into one inch pieces and left them for an hour to simmer in water.  I added some iron to the mix, to serve as a colour modifier – a square-headed nail, a railroad spike and a rusty horseshoe.  The water was pale green at first, but as it began to cool, it became a dark, almost black, green …

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dark dye from Lily of the Valley

dark dye from Lily of the Valley

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Once the water cooled, I strained the liquid and added the wool.  After bringing it to a boil, I let it cool gradually – wool hates sudden changes in temperature …

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wool roving, treated with alum, in the dark Lily of the Valley dye

wool roving, treated with alum, in the dark Lily of the Valley dye

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The resulting colour was dark grey.  I also did a vat without the addition of iron and the result was a slightly paler grey.

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dark grey of wool roving dyed with Lily of the Valley

dark grey of wool roving dyed with Lily of the Valley

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This is my last dyeing experiment with Lily of the Valley.  All the parts of the plant are poisonous with compounds known as glycosides.  Ingested, these compounds have an effect on the heart and can cause fatal circulatory, gastrointestinal and respiratory problems.  If you are a fan of the TV show Breaking Bad, you will know that Walt used Lily of the Valley in a scheme to kill one of his enemies.

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Although I took precautions, doing the boiling outside and disposing of the liquid in the woods, far from our well or the stream, I was not comfortable working with such a poisonous plant.  While the water was boiling, the smell was thick and noxious and my mouth had a metallic taste all day.  I was jittery before I went to bed, convinced that breathing the vapours would be the end of me.  I am fine today, but I don’t recommend using Lily of the Valley as a dye.  The dark grey colour obtained is not worth the risk.  And the lovely scent of the Lily of the Valley flowers is the plant’s first, best use.

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'lily-of-the-valley'

2013 ‘lily-of-the-valley’ Jane Tims

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

May 30, 2014 at 12:12 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I also didn’t know that the Lily of the Valley were poisonous. They are currently blooming here–and spreading rapidly in all of the shaded areas of my lawn. I think they are pretty–but I also end up pulling many of them each year because of their weed-like qualities.

    Like

    Sheryl

    June 1, 2014 at 12:01 am

    • Hi Sheryl. They make a great ground cover and border. I think they are only poisonous if ingested. The smell of the flowers is one of the best smells there is. Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      June 1, 2014 at 7:32 pm

  2. Very informative – I had no idea of the lethal qualities of the beautiful lily of the valley. I might have to argue that your watercolour is the best part of the plant – I do think I can catch the scent just looking at it.

    Like

    francisguenette

    May 30, 2014 at 6:38 pm


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